Last spring President Obama and House leaders pledged to crack down on "earmarking," the practice by which lawmakers slip pet projects into spending bills that often benefit those who just happen to contribute to their campaigns. But on July 30, it was business as usual when the House approved a $636 billion military spending bill stuffed with about 1,100 earmarks worth more than $2.7 billion. "The swamp has not been drained, to put it mildly," says GOP Rep. Jeff Flake, who offered repeated amendments to strike selected earmarks, all of which failed. Among his targets: at least 70 earmarks worth more than $500 million for former clients of defunct lobbying firm PMA Group (closely tied to powerful Defense Appropriations chair Rep. John Murtha), which the FBI raided last year. The bill also included $80 million for an antimissile defense project that Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to kill but is being built, in part, by Northrop Grumman in Murtha's district. (A Murtha spokesman didn't respond to requests for comment.)
It's not just the Murthas who play the earmark game. Consider Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a south Florida Democrat generally known as a reformer. Wasserman Schultz, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, slipped into the bill a $4.5 million earmark for a high-tech radio project that the Pentagon didn't ask for and which, according to a report by congressional auditors, has been plagued by "significant" performance problems. The beneficiary: defense contractor General Dynamics. GD's PAC, which had never given to Wasserman Schultz in the past, kicked in $19,000 to her political committees in the past two years—including $5,000 this year while the Appropriations panel deliberated the bill. Jonathan Beeton, a spokesman for the representative, says the campaign donations "did not play a factor" in the earmark request, but noted that GD opened an office in her district last year. "We were happy to hear what we can do to make them successful and they said they had this program," Beeton says, though he concedes the radios won't be manufactured in her district. A GD spokesman says its radios aren't the cause of the problem the auditors flagged and says of the donations, "General Dynamics supports members who support U.S. troops."